Interpreting Statistics doesn’t come up much on the Math SAT, but understanding its basics is essential to getting a perfect score. Before diving into this, I suggest you read our article on Basic Statistics or hey, get our entire SAT Math Mastery book, which covers percentages, Algebra II, and everything the Math SAT can throw at you!
Interpreting statistics makes up about 2.2% of the entire test, or 3.3% of the Calculator Section. On average, there’s about one of these questions per SAT test on the calculator section. Rarely, you’ll see two questions on the test. It’s definitely worth knowing, but won’t make or break your SAT score. If you’re struggling, I recommend brushing up on core Algebra I and II concepts before worrying too much about statistics.
Identifying the Statistics Problem
SAT problems that are asking you to interpret statistics are pretty easy to spot because both the answers and the question itself will be very, very word-heavy. The problem should present you with a “research situation” like a study, statistical data, survey, or experiment, and ask you things like what conclusions are reasonable to draw, how the study’s accuracy could be improved, or what flaws exist in the study’s approach.
As the focus of the problem is how you interpret the study, you often don’t actually have to do much math on these problems. If you find yourself doing a lot of work, you’re probably going down the wrong path.
Answering the Statistics Problem
When it comes to answering these kinds of questions, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Firstly, because statistics only show what’s possible (and not what is absolutely true), it’s safer to avoid answer choices with “certainty” words like “must” or “will” and instead favor choices with some wiggle room. Instead of
Having a large sample size is probably not as important here as you think, but when generalizing the results of a small study group to a large population, then having a randomized and representative sample is essential to avoid a sampling bias.
Elimination also works very well on these problems. Even if you don’t immediately know what the real answer is, eliminating the answers that don’t make any sense will get you much, much closer to the real one.
Lastly, be familiar with the margin of error is. It’s very unlikely you’ll have to calculate it, but statistics questions might ask you to use the margin of error to interpret the data they give you. The margin of error is the amount an estimated value could be off by. If a study estimates that a value is about 75% with a 1% margin of error, that means that the study is sure that the true value is within 1% of 75%, so somewhere between 74% and 76%. If the margin of error was instead 10%, the true value could be between 65% and 85%. Make sense so far?
That’s all! Now you’re set to interpret statistics on the SAT! If you want more SAT and ACT prep advice sure to join our mailing list for a free 27-item checklist and 30-day free SAT email course.